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Legislature re-elects 3 Regents, adds a newcomer

(L-R) Nominees for the New York State Board

(L-R) Nominees for the New York State Board of Regents Wade Norwood, James Cottrell, Christine Cea, and Judge Josephine Victoria Finn look on as their nominations are voted on during a joint legislative session on Tuesday, March 11, 2014 in Albany. Credit: Albany Times Union / Paul Buckowski

ALBANY -- The suspense in state Board of Regents elections Tuesday wasn't so much over anticipation of the outcome but whether the ouster of one incumbent will do anything to quell political unrest centering on the Common Core academic standards, officials said.

Democratic legislators, who control Regents elections, propelled the re-election of three incumbents to the 17-member board. They also elected a new member, Josephine Finn of Sullivan County, after incumbent James Jackson of Albany abruptly resigned hours before the legislature convened.

The ouster of a sitting member of the state's education policymaking board is rare. The last time it happened in recent memory was 1988.

Jackson, reached at his home, gave no reason for his departure. But many rank-and-file legislators saw him as a casualty of the controversy swirling around the state's push for tougher student testing and teacher evaluations tied to Common Core academic standards.

Assemb. Andrew Raia (R-Huntington) said it was fair to call Jackson a "sacrificial lamb." Raia opposed the four incumbents and called for Regents to be selected by voters.

"Symbolic is a fair assessment," state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said of Jackson's exit. "But if they wanted to address the unrest, they would have gotten rid of all four. I don't think anything in this process today is going to make people say re-electing three incumbents is going to shift the course of things."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) sought to dismiss Republicans' criticism. He noted the Assembly, unlike the Senate, passed a bill to delay several elements of Common Core implementation, including putting off teacher evaluations conducted under the new Common Core curriculum for two years.

He said that while the Common Core rollout has been "flawed," he had faith in the Regents individually. "They've been around. They listen. They understand, and that is the key thing," Silver said. He said Finn was chosen by state legislators in her region and added that she "seems very qualified."

Regents are elected by a combined vote of the state Assembly and Senate and serve five-year terms. Between the two houses, there are 131 Democrats, 69 Republicans and one Independence Party member. Assembly Democrats, with 99 members, have the largest bloc and have controlled Regents elections for years. Regent incumbents Wade Norwood of Rochester, James Cottrell of Brooklyn and Christine Cea of Staten Island, as well as Finn, won lopsided votes over Republican-backed challengers.

In recent weeks a small but growing number of Democrats had announced they would not support all four Regent incumbents for re-election, signaling a shake-up was likely. Some Democrats said their opposition reflected constituents' ire over the Common Core. On Monday the legislature announced it was interviewing a last-minute candidate, Finn -- even though interviews were supposed to be wrapped up last month. Less than 24 hours later, she was elected.

Finn has political ties: She currently services as Monticello village justice but has previously served as an assistant Sullivan County attorney. She will represent a Capital Region/Hudson Valley district.

A day earlier, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's Common Core commission released a set of recommendations that included eliminating some tests and terminating a contract with inBloom Inc., a private company establishing a database of student information with "cloud" technology. But the panel said nothing about delaying a new teacher-evaluation system Cuomo championed.

The governor Tuesday again criticized the Regents' rollout of Common Core but noted that he has no role in their election.

With John Hildebrand

State & Region